Academics and Research

Love of music led renowned pianist to Lamont School

Pianist Steven Mayer, an associate professor at the Lamont School of Music, was smitten at the tender age of 3. “My first loves,” he says, “were Broadway musicals and Stravinski.”

The son of composer William Mayer, Steven grew up listening to classical, jazz, opera and pop music. After studying at Juilliard, he began performing internationally with ensembles including the Minnesota Orchestra and the Hague Philharmonic.

In 1992, Mayer won the Grand Prix du Disque Liszt — an annual award for the best performance of a work by famed composer Franz Liszt — for his world premiere recording of “De Profundis.” Mayer also has won acclaim for his other albums, many of which have been reviewed by The New York Times, which credits Mayer with “piano playing at its most awesome.” His albums include “Liszt vs. Thalberg,” which re-creates the 1837 “duel” between Liszt and composer-pianist Sigismond Thalberg in Paris, and “Art Tatum: 15 Solos,” Mayer’s take on the work of the jazz legend.

Mayer’s most recent album, “Louis Moreau Gottschalk: A Night in the Tropics — Solo Piano Music” was released in August 2015 and has received positive reviews in outlets including the Washington Post and The New York Times. Funding for the recording came both from classical record label Naxos, on which the album appears, and a $16,000 Professional Research Opportunity for Faculty (PROF) grant from DU. Mayer also sits on the faculties of UCLA and the Manhattan School of Music.


Q: How did your career in music begin? How did this lead you to the Lamont School of Music?

A: My concert career started in 1968, when I tied for first prize in the annual New York Times WQXR radio contest to find New York’s best high school pianist. As winner, I got to perform Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 with the American Symphony in Carnegie Hall and Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” in Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center in New York. It wasn’t until my 50s that I changed my perspective on teaching. After a series of health dilemmas, I found I no longer looked at teaching as a fallback position for a performer, but as a chance to reach other humans one to one.

In 2007, I chose to settle permanently at the Lamont School of Music because, uniquely, Lamont combines a high level of student accomplishment with an atmosphere that places the person before the subject. Careers in music can be brutally competitive, and Lamont teaches humanity as well as music. This way of looking at things happens to be the opposite of what I had experienced at Juilliard in the 1960s and ’70s.


Q: How did you develop your passion for music into a career?

A: A passion for music and a career in music are two separate things. Some of the most passionate musicians are not professionals, and some professionals are more interested in career success than music. I always wanted both things, so I was equal parts career shark and fanatical musician.


Q: What’s one piece of classical music that everyone should know?

A: If I were banished to Greenland with a record player and only one recorded piece of music to listen to, it would be Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion.”


Q: Is there a single one of your performances that stands out in your mind? Why?

A: Though my recordings of Liszt’s “De Profundis” and “Totentanz” with the London Symphony Orchestra may be as fine as any I have had the privilege to do, one private performance I gave of Mozart’s A minor Rondo, for the woman who later became my wife, was as perfect a moment as I have ever experienced.


Q: What motivated you to record your most recent album of music by Gottschalk?

A: Though it has, of course, been a great gift to set down my life’s work for Naxos Records, my profoundest reason to record the particular album you mention was to prove to myself, and hopefully persuade a few others, that Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s music may possess a depth rarely associated with him.




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